Loggers in short supply

The San Juan National Forest could face a serious dilemma this summer - lack of loggers. Even though the forest has a below-average summer of logging forecasted, there will be an abundance of thinning and fuels reduction. Already, there are concerns that there may not be enough hands to complete the work.

Throughout the West, the Forest Service is currently facing an abundance of standing dead trees thanks to the growing pine beetle epidemic. At the same time, economics have led to fewer loggers and fewer mills to process the timber. The local region contains only one large mill, Intermountain Resources, in Montrose, and several smaller operations.

Dave Dallison, timber program leader for the local forest, said that this factor combined with an absence of people to cut trees could cause problems this summer.

"With all the fuels work going on, there is some concern that we've just about maxed out the availability of loggers," Dallison said.

On the other hand, Chris Meyers, of Intermountain Resources, argued that the Forest Service has not adequately supported the timber industry in recent years.

"We struggle all the time for enough raw material," Meyers told The Vail Daily. "The (Forest Service) doesn't put up enough wood to supply our facility on a year-round basis."

Intermountain Resources won't get much raw material from the San Juan National Forest this summer.

Dallison noted that 2005 will actually be below average locally in terms of good, old-fashioned logging. However, there are numerous fuel management projects planned, both to eliminate beetle kill and mitigate for wildfire.

"Our offer for sale this year is roughly 10 million board feet, which is pretty small compared to past targets," Dallison said. "But there is an awful lot of fuels work that utilizes a lot of the same people. The timber may not be going on the market but it takes loggers to have it cut."

The problem is a familiar one for Dallison, who recalls when sales went without even receiving bids in the 1990s. The difference now is that dead trees that stay in the forest have a higher chance of burning, he said.

County opposes new recreation tax

La Plata County took a strong stand against recreational fees this week. In an "enthusiastic and unanimous" vote, the county commissioners enacted a resolution calling for the repeal of the recently enacted Recreation Access Tax (RAT). La Plata County became the third county in the state to adopt such a resolution in a push opponents are hoping will sweep the West.

The RAT has gone by many names including the public lands passport and the America the Beautiful pass. U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, succeeded in attaching his bill as a rider to the giant Omnibus Appropriations Bill enacted in the lame duck session of Congress in early December. The RAT received little public oversight, as it was never passed by the House and was never introduced, given a hearing or voted upon in the Senate.

Key provisions of the rider include permanent recreation fee authority for national forest and BLM land as well as land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service. Failure to pay the fees will be a criminal offense.

Commissioner Sheryl Ayers said that La Plata County passed Monday's resolution opposing the RAT for a couple reasons. "The Board of Commissioners had taken a position several years ago in opposition to the fee demo program, and this is a continuation of that policy," she said. "A big issue with this was also the manner in which it was done. There apparently was not a proper process when this tax was put in place."

In passing the resolution, La Plata County joined San Miguel and Hinsdale counties. San Juan County is expected to pass similar language Feb. 23. Kitty Benzar, of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, applauded all of the resolution. She said that coalition is working to make a strong statement by encouraging similar resolutions throughout the West.

"Our goal is to get as many public bodies in the West to pass this kind of resolution as possible," she said. "We can all argue about fees and things later, but let's at least do it in an open public forum."

Castro announces her candidacy

Virginia Castro put months of speculation to rest last Tuesday. On the steps of the La Plata County Courthouse, she announced her intention to seek reelection to the Durango City Council. Castro's announcement puts the number of candidates to four. Three seats will be open in the April 5 election.

Councilor Aaron Tucson, the youngest member of the council, has not announced his intentions but said at a Feb. 15 council meeting that he has not ruled out running for another term. Mayor Joe Colgan is term limited.

Castro, who was first elected in April of 2001, said she went back and forth on whether to throw her hat back in the ring. "I did a lot of soul searching to arrive at my decision," she remarked.

However, the decision became clear recently during a study session on the proposed sales tax increase to fund open space, a new library and other capital projects. "While I was sitting in that study session, I realized a lot of the questions I was raising might not be addressed if I were not there," she said.

Castro said that, if reelected, she hopes to bring continuity to the council. "Just one new person changes the dynamic of the council," she noted. "There are a lot of loose ends right now and hopefully if I'm reelected, I can add some continuity."

She concluded by saying that one of the biggest planks in her platform is open space. "I'm committed to the preservation of open space, and I hope our voters will support the referendum that's coming up on the same ballot," she said.

Three others have announced their intention to seek election to the City Council. They are: Doug Lyon, a Fort Lewis College professor; David Burke, an information-systems manager; and Jim Schneider, who works in office equipment sales. Additional candidates may also come out of the woodwork and have until March 1 to take out and return a nominating petition. Mail-in ballots will be sent to city voters March 11 and must be returned by April 5.

Thinning project pitched near town

The Forest Service is seeking public input on a small thinning project in the vicinity of Junction Creek planned for the Durango area this summer. The Columbine Ranger District/ has proposed to thin and mow approximately 456 acres of gambel oak and ponderosa pine in the Hidden Valley area.

The area in question is located approximately 3 miles north of Durango along La Plata County Road 205. The project is proposed as a wildfire deterrent, and the Forest Service believes the thinned and open areas created by this mowing will provide an effective barrier to its rapid spread. Comments are due prior to March 15.

For more information, contact Craig Goodell at 884-1430.

- compiled by Will Sands




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